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The West of Ireland: Dimensions of distinctiveness

Updated Wednesday, 30 March 2016
How do you define 'the West of Ireland'? Do you look at cultural factors, geography, or something else?

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Where is the West of Ireland? Locational distinctiveness

The question of what, or where, the West of Ireland is, illustrates the problems of defining the distinctiveness and uniqueness of place. You may already have your own sense of what the West of Ireland is like in terms of its scenery and culture and this may differ according to whether you live in the area or are viewing it from afar! The landscape of rock, bog, lakes and isolated cottages is generally familiar through tourist promotion; the culture is often characterised by distinctive forms of music and dancing which are as familiar outside Ireland as within. The following video for the Wild Atlantic Way is an example of this:

The wet, windy climate, long winters and short growing season, the size of small farms, conservative attitudes and long history of emigration may all contribute to a less picturesque view of the West of Ireland, but they still do not say exactly where it is. To define and delimit the West of Ireland as a region means establishing criteria to convey the distinctiveness and coherence which have developed over time.


As you compare the five different maps here, notice how different criteria produce different definitions of 'the West of Ireland' (Use the ‘next’ button at the bottom of the box to move on to the next map)

Each of these maps focuses on a different dimension, producing different definitions of the West of Ireland. Thinking in terms of the concept of synthesis, list the aspects which you would combine in order to define and explain the uniqueness of this place.

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This material draws from an Open University course based on the work of Pat Jess.

  • Jess, P. (1985) â€˜Unit 17 Local Change in the West of Ireland’, in The Open University (1985) D205 Changing Britain, Changing World: geographical perspectives, Broadcast Handbook, Milton Keynes, The Open University Press.


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